Economic Libertarianism, Christian Reconstructionism, and the Republican Party
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Feb 19, 2007 at 05:24:07 PM EST
Following the trail of how “Free Market” libertarianism intersected with conservative versions of Calvinist Christianity leads us to aggressive forms of Dominionism and theocratic forms such as Christian Reconstructionism; and how they influenced the Republican Party economic and social welfare policies beginning in the 1980s.

Among the many contributors to the Libertarian Freeman magazine in the 1960s and 1970s were Rousas J. Rushdoony and Gary North, both of whom would go on to become the founding intellectuals of the theocratic Christian Reconstructionist movement.

In the 1960s, Rushdoony wrote a tract “Christianity and Capitalism” for the Free Enterprise Department of the Coast Federal Savings & Loan Association. Coast was headed by businessman Joe Crail, author of another tract, “A Businessman’s Look at “Communism vs. Capitalism.” During this period there were continual attempts to harness widespread anti-communism to attempts to roll back the social policies of the New Deal, and even the idea of a “redistributive” income tax, seen as punishing the successful and denying them their just rewards.

In “Christianity and Capitalism” Rushdoony wrote:

“Thus, any attack on the idea of rewards and punishments is an attack on God’s order. Second, rewards and punishments presuppose liberty as basic to man’s condition. Man is free to strive, to compete, to work for rewards and to suffer penalties. Thus, any attack on these concepts is also an attack on liberty; it is an insistence that a leveling equality together with total controls is a better condition for man than liberty is or can be. St. Paul declared ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Cor. 3:17). God and liberty are inseparable.” (pp. 1-2)

According to Rushdoony, Free Market capitalism is a product of Christianity, “and in particular, of Puritanism which, more than any other faith, has furthered capitalization.” (p. 5). He asserts that before “the United States began its course of socialism and inflation,” (think New Deal) it had already “abandoned its historic Christian Position.” (p. 5). Unworthy Christians lead to bad economics.

Rushdoony argued that “Socialism is organized larceny,” because “like inflation, it takes from the haves to give to the have-nots. By destroying capital, it destroys progress and pushes society into disaster.” (p. 6). By extension, this logic applies to “Big Government” and taxation.

The Chalcedon Foundation, founded by Rushdoony, described itself in a version of that pamphlet republished in 2000, as condemning the “dissolution of family authority, abortion, confiscatory statism, injustice, and humanistic education.” “Confiscatory statism,” is such an elastic concept, no?

Gary North worked for Rushdoony at Chalcedon as a young man, before splitting over theological disputes (while splitting away with Rushdoony’s daughter who became North’s wife). According to North:

“I decided at age 18 that I would try to discover the relationship between the Bible and economic theory. I was persuaded by The Freeman that Mises had the correct approach: market freedom. But I had become a Christian at age 17, and I was convinced in 1960 that the Bible applies to all areas of life, including economics. I wanted to know if Mises' economics related to the Bible. My first published effort in this regard was my book, An Introduction to Christian Economics (1973).” (

In 1991 Australian Ian Hodge, wrote “Christian Economics: The Social Conditions for Wealth” for The Counsel of Chalcedon, a publication of the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Georgia with Dr. Joseph C. Moorecraft, III as minister. It describes itself as “A Monthly Christian Magazine Applying the Bible to Every Aspect of Life.” Reconstuctionist Gary DeMar was a contributing editor, and Reconstructionist Greg Bahnsen wrote articles.

Hodge argues that it “is evident from the Bible that it is clearly wrong to make money and wealth out goal in life. But when our goal is God’s glory, then the pursuit of wealth as a necessary means to finance the extension of God’s kingdom on this earth, is a noble and worthy task.” (Vol. 13, No. 10, December 1991, p. 21).

Another publication promoting Dominionist and Reconstructionist ideas was Crosswinds: The Reformation Digest, published by the Coalition on Revival. In 1994 Dennis Peacocke, wrote “Understanding the Critical Difference Between Justice and Equality.” (Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1994-1995).

Peacocke states that “the Bible does not teach that all men are equal, and no amount of social legislation or economic restructuring through tax policy can change this reality.” (p. 45). According to Peacocke, God put within man “the urge to take dominion….” (p. 45). Apparently, this urge is made impotent by the welfare state and taxation. As Peacocke explains:

“Forced wealth distribution is inherently anti-family. It created dependence on government entitlements rather than on strong, covenantal family responsibilities. Civil government systematically undermines the family as God’s conduit of blessing when it takes wealth from those who create it and gives it to those who do not.” (p. 47.).

This same issue carries a special section on the “Economic Scene,” including these articles:

  • E. Calvin Beisner, “Is There an Invisible Hand Helping the Poor?”
  • E. Calvin Beisner, “Stewardship and the Free Market.”
  • Alan Samson, “Inflation and the Quality of Character.”

“Is There an Invisible Hand Helping the Poor?” is answered by Beisner in the affirmative. The constructive invisible hand of the Free Market is guided by God’s plan, but there is a destructive invisible hand of the “welfare state.” Citing Charles Murray’s book Losing Ground (1984), Beisner claims the “burgeoning growth of major welfare programs and spending in the 1960s and 1970s” spread “debilitating behaviors encouraged by welfare programs” among Black Americans, and thus “did the invisible hand of the welfare state stop dead in its tracks and then reverse the progressive narrowing of the gap in income and employment between blacks and whites.” (p. 59). In this way issues such as institutional racism are swept aside and buried by the invisible hand of the Free Market.

Dominionism as a tendency within Christian evangelicalism developed in a synergistic way with the unregulated Free Market ideology promoted by conservatives after WWII and the Republican Party since the Reagan Revolution starting in 1980. Both tendencies share some of the same historic and intellectual roots, which can be traced by exploring back issues of the Freeman. It should be no surprise, then, that what on the surface seems like an unlikely alliance within the Republican Party—economic libertarians and Christian evangelicals—actually has many points of convergence.

See Also:

God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series

Fundamentalists Embrace Darwin!

The Christian Right, Calvinism, and Free Market Ideology

Calvin, the Free Market, and Poverty

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates

The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates
Chip's Blog

If there was an invisible hand helping the poor, why is poverty growing so much- and the gap between the rich and poor expanding at the rate it is?

No, the "invisible hand" of greed is taking from the poor and giving to the rich- and it's THEIR hand.  This can be demonstrated.  The rich are getting government help and tax breaks- and the poor and working people are being forced to support them.

The "welfare state" of the post-war period can also be demonstrated as having reduced the gap between the rich and poor.  Welfare for the most part worked- but the lies of the conservatives (and big business) have been bought by most of the people in this country.

We've discussed how Calvinism and dominionism actually practice "social Darwinism"... this is just another example of their blind idiocy and greed.

I'd add to that a complete lack of care for their fellow man.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Feb 19, 2007 at 06:06:27 PM EST

Too little has been said about Beisner's role.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Feb 19, 2007 at 06:35:08 PM EST
I hadn't understood the role Beisner played in shaping these claims until I began digging around in older serials.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 08:21:47 PM EST

Free market capitalism is the result of classic Adam Smith liberalism. What these folks mislabel as "socialism" is actually contemporary economic liberalism which is classical liberalism tempered by both the Protestant Social Gospel and Roman Catholic distributive justice movements.

As proof of how ill-informed they are, the Chalcedon web site quotes F. A. Hayek, who contrary to these folks wrote this about his beliefs.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Feb 19, 2007 at 07:24:02 PM EST

Well, at least he claimed his turf...
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Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 08:24:00 PM EST

Right now, a lot of people are buying into the myth that they too can be rich, but the economic signs are not good. Kevin Phillips notes in his book American Theocracy that the American economy has become increasingly dependent upon foreign loans to keep it afloat and that the American economy is also increasingly financialized. In turn, the financialization leads to greater extremes of wealth and poverty, which a lot of people are papering over with credit card debt.  The American economy isn't producing much of anything except how to make money off money. I really fear that we will see a reprise of the Great Depression in my lifetime.

Frank, you are right about the so-called "socialism" being capitalism tempered by distributive justice and the Social Gospel. My father calls the philosophy of the "free marketers" this-"I got mine, now you go out and get yours." We both hate this philosophy, but most people aren't going to realize it until things get bad again.

by khughes1963 on Mon Feb 19, 2007 at 09:04:01 PM EST

not to equate libertarianism with Christianity, and especially not with Christian reconstructionists. The Gary Norths may claim to be libertarians but they're not, as their dystopic vision of a society that enforces Biblical law makes quite clear. I am a libertarian, though on economic matters hardly a dogmatic one, and I can tell you that the vast, vast majority of libertarians not only are not theocrats, they are staunchly opposed to them.

by Ed Brayton on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 12:22:59 PM EST
True libertarians are really classic liberals. As an FDR-RFK liberal myself, I find that once I get past economic issues, I have much in common with libetarians. So, while I can appreciate a Jim Pinkerton, I cannot deal with either  David Brooks or Jerry Falwell.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 01:10:34 PM EST

Well, they call themselves libertarians, but it is true that many libertarians have little in common with the theocratric wing of the Austrian School libertarians.
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Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue Feb 20, 2007 at 08:25:58 PM EST

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